The Boston Celtics have the Indiana Pacers left on their playoff checklist before Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can get their redemption shot in the NBA Finals — either against the Minnesota Timberwolves or Dallas Mavericks.

Fate itself couldn’t hand the Celtics a more favorable turn of events this postseason. The stars are aligned, the Causeway Street crowd is hungry, and there is zero leeway to fumble this wide-open lane to the promised land. It’s officially Boston’s time, and as was the case in the first and second rounds, the opposition — Indiana — isn’t menacing by any stretch.

Boston returned to a similar place, patiently waiting this past weekend before knowing who it’d go toe-to-toe with in the conference finals.

“It’s been like that this whole postseason for us,” guard Derrick White told reporters Monday, per CLNS Media. “Just preparing the same way we have been this whole time and then just dive in a little deeper into what Indiana likes to do, and what we need to do — something we’ve been doing this whole postseason and we have to be ready to go.”

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Thanks to the Nuggets and Knicks, who both took their semifinal matchups to a Game 7 with the Timberwolves and Pacers, respectively, the Celtics haven’t been concerned with rest. The second-seeded Knicks, who held a 2-0 series lead over Indiana, was the last notable threat in the East while Denver — last year’s champion — left outsiders looking ahead for Boston and the doomsday scenario that won’t occur this go-around.

The most obvious difference between last season’s Celtics and the new-and-improved 2023-24 squad is closeout urgency. Boston didn’t go through a six or seven-game battle in either the first or second round. Unlike last year, when the Hawks, Sixers, and Heat exposed the Celtics as regular-season posers, Boston respected its matchup. Miami and Cleveland weren’t of the same caliber as the Celtics, but Boston didn’t play down to them.

Boston was the first team to punch its conference finals ticket, doing so while keeping its legs fresh before Tuesday night’s series opener with Indiana.

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“I think rest is great,” Jaylen Brown explained, per CLNS Media. “You get to rest your body, my team gets to rest. Reset your mind a little bit. I think those days add value so, personally, I like to keep (the games) going but I think it’s good for us.”

There’s a major difference that can’t be ignored in playing 13-to-14 games before reaching the conference finals as opposed to 10 games. It’s given the Celtics a first-hand view of how rewarding playing up to par can be, especially for a team yet to prove itself.

The Pacers, on the other hand, haven’t experienced any of that. It took a relying-on-its-last-breath Knicks team riddled with injuries to give Indiana a boost. Everyone from Josh Hart to Spike Lee sitting courtside was hobbling out of Madison Square Garden in worse shape than when they entered.

Indiana ranks last in rebounds (40.9) among teams still alive this postseason, and last in defensive rating (121.7). Playing on one side of the floor won’t fly with the Celtics, who can dismantle teams in a number of ways. Boston towers Indiana in terms of star power, offensive versatility, defense, depth, and — by far — pressure to win a title.

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“We just gotta be the harder-playing team,” White said, per CLNS. “Like talent aside, going out there and compete, being the harder-playing team and that solves a lot of problems. That’s something that you learn in third grade and it’s still true to this day in the NBA. Whether we have the talent or not, we just gotta compete and be the harder playing team.”

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images